It’s long been understood that as soon as designer fashions strut down the catwalk, there will be high street brands ready to ‘take inspiration’, create a ‘tribute’ or – more blatantly – rip them off. Since fashion began, women would take illustrations and images of couture creations to a dressmaker and recreate the latest looks on a budget. Now it’s known as ‘getting the look’ and finding high street pieces, reminiscent of mega expensive designer items, has come to be an acceptable way to get dressed.
We love saving up for a special designer tote bag, trainers or a dress but no one can afford to wear super-brands all the time (and it would be boring to wear entire catwalk *lewks* all day, erryday.) Revelling in a high/low mix of price points seems like a clever way to get dressed and besides, no one is immune to the joy of a conversations that ends in, “No way, I thought it was Gucci!” when you reveal your high street source…
Emma Watson is founder and owner of children’s hat brand, Little Hotdog Watson and lecturer in fashion marketing and explains the history of copying within fashion. “It’s been around since day one, but it would always be high street or supermarket brands copying the catwalk and no one minded too much. In the early Noughties, F&F ‘copied’ a green Chloe dress and the customer that buys from Chloe won’t be shopping for fashion in Tesco, nor will they want polyester. So those (supermarket) sales would never eat into the higher brands’ market.”
That’s fair enough but over the past few years, high street brands are looking further away from established catwalk collections and searching out inspiration from small labels, direct to consumer brands, emerging designers and freshly graduated students. And this is where it’s not ok.
If an international high street brand copies an equally international designer brand’s dress, both companies are protected by a team of lawyers who can fight it out and reach a pay-out deal. But what happens when the designer fronts their own label? Financially, it’s an uneven field. Starting out as a fashion designer is a tough gig. Often doing everything from sourcing fabrics, cutting patterns, running warehouses and distribution, ordering, packaging, doing their own PR, marketing, HR and accounts, small labels often don’t have the finances to be backed by a specialist team of intellectual property lawyers. Or even one lawyer.
“Today, when a high street brand copies a smaller independent, who’s price point would be only slightly higher (because they have less buying power, smaller quantities of scale and less ability to negotiate) the big brand is directly taking away the smaller label’s customers and business opportunities,” explains Emma.
Patrick McDowell is the founder of an eponymous sustainable fashion brand and Sustainability Design Director at Pinko and wonders if emerging designers are specifically preyed on. He muses that, “marginalised groups have less representation and resources so maybe that’s why they are copied more.” Patrick also points out that smaller designers, and those at the start of their careers are also likely to create designs that come from deeply personal spaces and experiences. “It’s extra insulting when a design (is copied) because there is no understanding of why it was created.”